Sunday, December 14, 2008

Green technologies set to help hotels trim costs

Source: Business Day - Julius Baumann, Aviation and Tourism Editor

THE motivation for South African hotels to go green may not be driven by business imperatives just yet, but it will in years to come.

In the long term green technologies are likely to help hotels trim their operational costs significantly — particularly with regard to electricity and water use.

And while there may be only a small number of guests seeking environmentally friendly hotels now, that trickle is likely to grow into a steady stream over the next few years as awareness of the need to conserve the environment grows.

Properties that have already adopted green technologies and practices will be the first to benefit from an increase in business.

The hospitality industry in general is only now waking up to the importance of green issues, but there are several hotels around the country that have a clear vision of a green future and have tackled it head-on.

The Port Elizabeth Radisson, due to open in March next year, is one such establishment and has adopted numerous environmentally friendly technologies from the outset.

“There are certain advantages to designing a building from scratch as it allows you to incorporate green design and use environmental friendly materials and systems you would not be able to in an existing building,” says Ben Nyaumwe, MD of Auspex Property and developer of the hotel.

Every aspect of its design and construction has been with one eye on the environment. For example the group used glass — mostly recycled glass — extensively in the building, which helped limit the use of artificial lighting and assists in heating the building.

“Apart from saving on power, the glass helps bring in a lot of natural light which studies have found generally helps make people to feel better about themselves,” says Nyaumwe.

The panes used in the hotel are also 94% reflective, helping to better regulate inside temperatures.

The developers also opted to use chilled water air-conditioning instead of the power-intensive electric systems traditionally used.

The chilled water is distributed throughout the building in a well-insulated piping system and connected to air condition cooling units wherever needed.

The hot water drawn out of the rooms through the air conditioning system is then used to pre-heat water used in the bathrooms. “This means that we need to use less power to heat the water, plus it offers instantly hot water when needed in the room,” says Nyaumwe.

Ultimately the building’s design has meant that the hotel will only use half of the planned 1600kW requirement. “There is no doubt that there will be a huge saving”.

The developers’ sensitivity to the environment has gone further than the building itself. The hotel also only uses material manufactured using environmental-friendly processes — bricks made in yards emitting plumes of black smoke will not be found in this building.

Nyaumwe says the development team travelled widely — here and abroad — to see what was available in terms of material and systems, the best of which have been used in the hotel.

Another property taking environmental issues seriously is The Vineyard in Cape Town. So seriously in fact that it has appointed an environmental manager, Chris van Zyl.

While not having the luxury of designing a green hotel from the ground up, The Vineyard has addressed environmental issues in every aspect of the service it provides. The paper it uses in its offices is recycled, mineral water is served only in recycled glass bottles, and the fresh produce used in its kitchens is organically grown and locally produced.

The Vineyard has a full recycling programme with a dedicated team sorting its waste. Van Zyl says that recycled grey water will be used in 35 new rooms under development.

He admits that while the focus is wholeheartedly on saving the environment, there are commercial benefits. “We do have a growing numbers of guests asking about our environmental programme before booking a room. And on the conference side, it is clear that companies would go elsewhere if we did not have the programme in place,” he says.

However, Van Zyl says that while there are savings in using green products and systems, there are also costs.

“Recycled paper needs to be imported as it is not locally available. That makes it much more expensive.

“Similarly the grey water recycling system may need to be imported. So while it may save us in the long run, the initial expense will be huge,” says Van Zyl.

Part of the problem is that with only a few properties using environmental systems such as chilled water air-conditioners, there is little demand in SA.

That means if they are available in the country, they are likely to be expensive or they need to be imported. “Clearly as more buildings become green and there is more demand, prices will drop,” says Van Zyl.

Van Zyl and Nyaumwe believe that a grading system, along the lines of the star system, is needed to market establishments that are strive to address green issues, and to develop a broader awareness.

While a handful of hotels may be leading the way, many more are likely to follow in the next few years.

But unlike the green pioneers, the latecomers’ decision to go green will be clearly driven by commercial imperatives and the financial benefits they will derive from going green.